Australia, Part 3: December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas!

Maybe that would’ve carried more weight if I’d blogged immediately instead of waiting 3 weeks. Oops.

Anyway, we woke up on Christmas morning at…I was going to say the crack of dawn, because that’s the expression, but nope. We woke up earlier than the crack of dawn. In fact, we woke up so we could drive up to Mt. Wellington and see the sunrise from the top of the mountain. We dragged a little bit and left later than we probably should have, but in our defense, it was 4-something in the morning.

As we made our journey to the mountain, we were welcomed by a friend on the side of the road.


We actually saw two kangaroos. We saw one and failed to get a picture, and Thomas said something along the lines of, “well, that was our chance.” And 10 seconds later we saw this guy. He sat staring at us for a couple minutes before he hopped back into the brush.

We made our way up the mountain behind schedule. Eventually, we got to a lookout spot, where we stopped to get some photos.


It was a really gorgeous view, but didn’t provide the panorama that we expected at the top, so we pushed onward.

By the time we got there, we’d pretty much missed the sunrise, but the sky was still tinged with some nice pastels, and the views of the city below were spectacular. I cursed myself a little for not having a wide angle lens, and therefore not being able to capture the full scope of what I was seeing. It was also bitterly bitterly cold in a way we weren’t expecting. I knew it would be chilly, but it felt like winter, and we were not prepared, especially after the last few days of heat and sunburn in Melbourne.


We went back down the mountain to our Airbnb, took a little nap, and prepared ourselves for some more Christmas Day fun.

In the afternoon, we drove to Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary.

I’m not sure if I’ve expressed how absolutely beautiful Tasmania is, but oh my gosh, it was absolutely worth going to. Hobart, the capital, is a city of about 200,000 people. I kept telling Thomas it reminded me a little of my our Matagalpa, as they’re both cities nestled in the hilly mountains, with houses built up the hillside. Anyway, the city itself gave me a sense of nostalgia, but immediately outside it, the landscape starts to open up, and you get a sense of the remoteness of the place. This is my long-winded way of saying it was a very nice drive to the wildlife sanctuary.

Because we were there on Christmas Day, they were operating with a skeleton staff, so they obviously didn’t have the capacity to do all of their usual tours. We knew that going in, and we were fine guiding ourselves through to see the wildlife. We saw a lot of wildlife that is native to Australia, many species which are now extinct outside of Tasmania.

We got to feed some kangaroos out of our own hands, and I was living my best life.

I smacked myself in the face with my camera trying to give it to Thomas so he could take this picture. Had a nice red bump on my forehead for the rest of the day!
Kangaroo so tiny!
I highly recommend spending Christmas feeding kangaroos.
They like when you scratch their chest.

Bonorong is a wildlife sanctuary, meaning they rescue injured or abandoned animals and rehabilitate them so they can reenter the wild. This guy’s name is Randall, and he was attacked by a dog. His leg was injured so badly that they had to amputate it. Because he can no longer fight off predators, he’s a permanent resident here.

Can you tell that his front right leg was amputated?

Of course, no trip to Tasmania would be complete without seeing a Tasmanian devil or two.

Devils bite. Please do not feed, tease, or touch.
Look at this cute little guy!

Just as we were about to leave, the staff started to give wrapped gifts to some of the animals. The boxes were full of meat, and we got to watch them open them and get their treat. The devil that I watched was a baby, and it was more interested in the paper than the food. Adorable.

He doesn’t care about the meat on the ground. Back to play with the paper.

Of course, we also saw some other amazing animals, including some birds (many were in cages and the photos didn’t turn out very well).

So colorful.

We’d somehow missed the wombats when we first got there, and right as we were leaving we got to pet a baby one. This little guy was orphaned and left alone, so he’s being taken care of here until he can reenter the wild.

I’ll end this post with this little joey peeking out from his mama’s pouch.

I was absolutely losing it because this baby was so cute and curious!

In the next post, we’re leaving Hobart to explore Port Arthur and drive up the beautiful Tasmanian coast!

Spring Vacation

Many of you may already know that Thomas and I recently went back to the States for a couple weeks. I wasn’t gonna write a blog post about it, but I’ve had a December vacation post saved in my drafts that I think it’s too late to publish, and I’ve been generally terrible about posting the March/April vacation photos on social media, so I decided to throw some here while I figure out what else to do with them.

The primary reason that Thomas and I went home was for his sister’s wedding. We love to celebrate love, plus it was nice to wear something other than my usual outfit of stretched-out jeans and t-shirts and thick layer of sweat.

Y’all know I love a good wedding, and it’s even better when there’s delicious food. Which THERE WAS and it was Italian and we ate leftovers for days and it was amazing.

The day after the wedding, we took the scenic drive to Blacksburg to see Grandma and Papa and celebrate Easter. I ate Grandma’s deviled eggs and Chris made some delicious chicken. We didn’t take any pictures (oops) because we were too busy having wonderful conversations and catching up. I’ve always loved the drive to Blacksburg from Missouri (despite the likelihood that I’ll get carsick driving the winding mountain roads.) The drive from Richmond was beautiful too, and as we were driving back after the sun set, we witnessed a glorious orange supermoon (ok, I’m not sure if that’s what it actually was because I forgot to Google afterward, but it was large and very orange.) We failed to get worthwhile pictures because we are not astrophotographers, obviously.

I’m shocked I was able to even get this photo without a tripod. The rest are complete basura.

The next day was Easter! We went to church and Thomas’s family all got together and again, I have no pictures.

We also went to New York for a few days! That was something that we’d been planning on doing for like a year, because I wanted to see Jackie and Jon at some point before my service ended, and I’d assumed we wouldn’t see them at Christmas (we did, but only for like an hour.) Anyway, we’d decided to go to New York, so I made the financially irresponsible choice of buying Hamilton tickets (the pretense was a late present for Thomas’s birthday/our anniversary, but let’s be real, it was a gift for myself too.)

That said, I feel like I need to *REWIND* to point out that I give Hamilton a ton of credit for Thomas and I becoming friends. When you’re in a new country with 40 other volunteers who you just met, you have no idea who’s gonna be important to you, or who to make important to you. Thomas and I had no formal introduction, at least not one that either of us remember. I was overwhelmed by new people, but we’d ended up sitting together at a charla or two, and all the volunteers had recently gotten each other’s phone numbers.

Anyway, his name is Thomas AND he’s from Virginia, so I thought of a couple Hamilton references and texted him asking if he’d ever listened to it. (He hadn’t, but said he’d be willing to.) It’s worth noting that comparing him to Thomas Jefferson was merely an excuse to text him, and that, gracias a dios, the first name and home state are where their similarities end. Well, they’re also both white men, but you get my point.

Anyway, I shared Hamilton with Thomas, and he shared Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book with me, and that’s kind of how our friendship and history of music sharing started. (Running into each other at the batido place in Catarina didn’t hurt either.)

So I bought four Hamilton tickets. (When people found out we were going, they kept asking, “so I guess it’s easier to get tickets now, huh?”) LOL NO, I bought those tickets in August, y’all. And I BARELY got them. I somehow managed to keep it a secret from Thomas until our anniversary weekend in February, but then I couldn’t keep it to myself any longer and freaked out and told him.

Anyway, that’s all to say that Hamilton is really important to both of us, and seeing it together was an indescribable experience.

We’re about to see Hamilton and we can’t contain the excitement.

Windy. So windy.

Ahhh I was telling this story chronologically and now it’s all jumbled because the process of buying tickets to seeing the show was like 7 months long.

Anyway, we were also suuuuper excited to go to NYC so we could meet up with our friend Maddie, who we last saw in September and have been missing like crazy. A few months before the trip, we told her we were planning to make our way to the city for a few days and that we would LOVE to see her if she could come down. We picked a meeting time and place, and I’m not even kidding, when I got there we locked eyes across a crowded room and everything went in slow motion for a second and then we hugged and it was incredible. Remember earlier when I said that at the beginning of the Peace Corps journey, you have no idea who will be important to you? Well somehow, through circumstance and coincidence and shared experience, we became friends. Important friends, and I can’t imagine my service without her.

After a delicious lunch (I ate tacos, and the dude who made my tacos automatically spoke to me in Spanish because maybe I look like I speak it, idk) we spent the day together walking in the crazy wind and talking about life plans and obsessing over books.

Maddie has a better Nica face than I do, but she’s also more Nica than me soooo


I’m sad to have parted ways for now, but I’m excited to see how and when and where we come together in the future ❤️

The day of Hamilton, we also met up with Uncle TJ, who took us to lunch and to Roosevelt Island, where there’s an old smallpox hospital. It’s now a protected historical ruin or something, and also something I didn’t know existed, so I was glad TJ took us out there!

And OF COURSE, is any trip to New York complete without visiting the Balto statue? (Answer: no.)

I think I mentioned most of the big things we did on vacation? In the future, I’m gonna try to be better at taking photos, because this is basically all I got 😬. Specifically, JACKIE, how do we NEVER get pictures when we’re together? I think the last photos of us together were at your wedding??? THREE YEARS AGO? We fail.

Anyway, thanks for reading. I’m back in Nicaragua until I finish service, so I’m gonna try REALLY hard to keep on truckin’ and updating you more regularly. Hold me accountable if I don’t!

Semana Santa

I’ve been terrible about writing things down as they happen, so I’m going to try to remember what I did. 

I started out Semana Santa by meeting up with Thomas in Estelí so we could travel together instead of arriving separately to a city neither of us knew. I’m getting pretty familiar with the Matagalpa-to-Estelí trip and it’s not too bad compared to some of my other viajes, but it’s still a 5-hour trip I’d rather avoid for a while.

Anyway, the first leg of our journey was to the beach in León! After some slight drama (getting our alcohol temporarily confiscated) we arrived at the beach where some wonderful friends were waiting.

After the first night, Thomas and I woke up early to see a little sunrise.

Spent the day lounging in the shade because the sun at the beach was not very forgiving, and the water was a little rough.

At some point we climbed atop these rocks where Ashley, our photo goddess, captured our joy.

We caught a nice sunset, too.

Ashley took some pretty gross photos of me and Thomas.

The next morning we went to the city of León, where Thomas and I didn’t spend enough time to actually do anything touristy. Next time.

We traveled to our favorite place, the Laguna de Apoyo. Our training groups spent quite a bit of time drinking batidos and then going to the mirador to gaze at the laguna’s beauty. Naturally, for our first vacation, we had to go back.

We kayaked out into the laguna. We swam and sat in the sun and spent way too much money on food. We took almost no photos, except this on the morning we left.

I’d say this first vacation was a success!

So thankful for this adventure, and looking forward to many more.

Thanksgiving with Otto

In my last post, I mentioned that some friends and I were planning on going to a beautiful location, hiking, and eating cheesecake.

Turns out, none of that happened.

On Tuesday, I received a text from the wonderful safety and security team, who said that all volunteers would need to leave their sites and consolidate in Managua on Wednesday. Tropical Storm/Hurricane Otto had slightly changed course, and there was a chance that it would affect some of our sites in Nicaragua. They wanted us to all be together to ride out the storm, so to speak.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t at all upset that I had to ditch my plans and go to Managua. Embassy families had invited us to spend Thanksgiving with them, but I’d declined because I didn’t want to pay out of pocket and go to Managua, and I really didn’t want to sit on a bus for ten hours over the course of a couple days. So a few of us had made our own plan, and we were excited about it.

When Otto destroyed the plan, I was a little bummed that I’d miss out on homemade cheesecake (like, they make the cheese there) but I was pumped that I’d not only get to see five of my friends, but ALL of them, and have an actual Thanksgiving meal. 

Apparently, this is the only time in about six years that all of the volunteers from around the country were together in one place. I think there are over 150 of us currently in country.

Anyway, thanks to Peace Corps and the awesome people at the Embassy, I got my name on a list so I could have Thanksgiving dinner. I ended up at Ambassador Laura Dugu’s house with about 40 other Peace Corps volunteers. Thanksgiving started when she greeted us at the door and we were immediately offered an assortment of beverages. (I chose white wine, because red would have been an invitation for disaster.)

Thanksgiving continued with food that rivaled my mom’s (which is really saying something.) I was honestly impressed that  they could cook so well for so many people.

Plate #1

The ambassador sat at my table, and maybe a minute after we started eating, I felt the table shake, and very calmly realized that we were having an earthquake. (Apparently, it was a 7-point-something in El Salvador. We had a tsunami warning in Nicaragua for a while, but all is well here.)
I ended up eating a couple plates of food. There was no pumpkin pie when I went for dessert, so I ended up eating some sort of delicious apple concoction and drinking cafe con leche out of fancy gilded cups.

Before we left, all of the guests took a picture with our gracious host.

Then, when I got back to the hotel, I sent my sisters some maternity-style photos of my food baby, as one does.

I spent the rest of the weekend with friends: Playing Cards Against Humanity, playing ERS (I lost, so Thomas is now a game up), and talking Harry Potter with Adrian.

Hurricane Otto made landfall on the coast, but it mostly missed Nicaragua. There may be a little damage, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. All we got in Managua was a little bit of rain, so on Friday we were allowed to go home. 

Most of us ended up staying an extra night in Managua and going to a fancy mall where we couldn’t actually afford anything. The prices were so high that they were in dollars.

We saw Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and then we got some sushi that was waaaaaay over our budget.

I’m back in Matagalpa now, but I’m very thankful that I was able to spend my first Thanksgiving away from home with people who feel like family.

68, see you all at New Year’s.

Unofficial Friendsgiving

On Saturday, after a little over a week in my new place, I headed back to Managua for some Access Camp planning. I live a good 4.5 hours from Managua, so I ended up going to Managua on Saturday, doing Access planning on Sunday, and going home Monday. On Saturday night, we went to a restaurant in Managua for dinner. I got a panini, and the price was in dollars (I know things are not Peace Corps-budget friendly when the prices aren’t listed in córdobas.) The food was great, but I always end up spending too much money in Managua.

After our meeting on Sunday, we decided to go to the grocery store to buy food to cook. I’ve been craving fettuccine alfredo for weeks. (I’m serious: About two months ago, I had an actual dream that I was in a kitchen cooking fettuccine alfredo.) So I dropped that suggestion, and my friends suggested some sautéed veggies, so we spent a few hours looking for ingredients (“Where is the heavy cream? Why isn’t it with the milk? How do you say ‘heavy cream’ in Spanish?”), cooking (“you should really wait until it boils to put the pasta in.” “I know, but I’m too impatient.”) and drinking wine (“I got a fifth bottle. I know us. We needed a fifth bottle.”)

And then, without any jokes about too many cooks in the kitchen, it was ready, and I tested the pasta, and no joke, had an out-of-body experience.

Several of us are having a friendsgiving on actual Thanksgiving, but we’ll probably eat at a restaurant because I don’t think our hostel will have a kitchen. (But the restaurant is farm-to-table and has cheesecake, which is literally all I’ve been talking about since I found the menu online four days ago.)

Anyway, even though Sunday night wasn’t our actual friendsgiving, it kind of felt like one. Most of us hadn’t cooked for ourselves since coming to Nicaragua, and we miss it, and we miss each other. Peace Corps is very much a community and a family, and being back together for a couple days was really nice.

We drank a little wine, ate delicious food, and immediately dove deep into scintillating, meaningful conversations about bad sex ed, gender roles, misogyny and patriarchy, adjusting to life in site, why we’re here, etc.

I feel very lucky to have ended up in this country with this amazing group of people. They share their stories with me, provide diverse perspectives, and don’t judge me when I go for a sixth serving of fettuccine alfredo. (Speaking of which, all day I’ve been kicking myself because I didn’t eat the leftovers for breakfast. We basically cleaned the pan, but it physically hurts me to think of any of that delicious homemade food going to waste.)

We stayed up late talking and telling stories and laughing until we cried, and in the morning, we went our separate ways. I’m happy to be back home, but always sad to leave my friends. Luckily, I’ll see a few of them again on Thursday for our planned Thanksgiving festivities.

Until then, look at this delicious food and my wonderful friends!